Traveling the World with GeoGuessr

I don’t get sucked into online games very often, and when I do, they tend to be spectacularly nerdy. I’ve signed up for free trials of Lumosity with three different email addresses and I spent a ridiculous amount of time doing Sporcle quizzes when I was studying to go on Jeopardy!, but it’s been a while since anything really grabbed my attention. A few weeks ago, though, one of my friends posted a link to GeoGuessr and now I can’t stop playing.

The beauty of the game is in its simplicity. You look at an image randomly selected from Google Street Views and try to pinpoint where the picture was taken on a world map. The closer your guess, the more points you get. After five rounds, you get your final score and a summary of your guesses vs. the actual locations. That’s it! Yet somehow it’s ridiculously addictive.

Of course, the game can be frustrating at times, but that just makes it even more satisfying when you manage to figure it out. Sometimes the initial image is completely useless; fortunately, you’re allowed to turn the camera 360°, zoom in and out, and even move down streets to get a better look at your surroundings. For example, this could be damn near anywhere! But when I turned around, there was a sign with a few kanji characters, so I was at least able to guess that it was in Japan, though I picked the wrong island.

Screencap from GeoGuessr of some ferns on an embankment
I was really happy when I decided it wasn’t “cheating” to look around.

Other times, you’ll get an image that’s actually helpful! (Though as XKCD pointed out, even pictures that seem obvious can screw you over sometimes.) I pretty much laughed my ass off when I got this one.

Screencap from GeoGuessr of the Universal Studios globe at the theme park in Orlando.
I got so many points!

If you get incredibly lucky, you might even get a place you’ve been before. A couple weeks ago I got a nondescript country road lined with trees, with no other clues to go on. I thought it looked vaguely like Central Texas, so I zoomed in just far enough to be able to see the outline of the state, clicked pretty much at random”¦ and was only off by 6.173 km (3.836 miles). While I’m reasonably certain I’ve never actually been down that exact road, my parents’ house is on that map. You can take the girl out of Texas, but you can’t take the Texas out of the girl!

Screencap from GeoGuessr of a scoring map of Central Texas; the pinpoints showing my guess and the actual location are almost on top of each other.
I lived on this map for nearly 22 years. No wonder the area looked familiar!

While it seems like a game of blind luck, you do actually improve the longer you play. You start figuring out what parts of the world have been mapped, which can help limit your options so you aren’t totally guessing at random. So far, the vast majority of images I’ve gotten have been in one of the following regions:

[fancy_list style=”circle_arrow” variation=”teal”]

  • The US, Canada, and Mexico
  • Brazil
  • Europe, particularly Scandinavia and Eastern Europe/Russia
  • South Africa and Botswana
  • Australia
  • Japan


Some other regions simply haven’t been mapped by Google yet, at least not extensively enough to pop up very often. When they do, of course, you’ll likely miss by a pretty wide margin because you’ll assume it’s somewhere that gets selected more often than the bloody Azores or Thailand or wherever.

You also start getting a better idea of what different regions look like. You learn to tell whether a random shot of the desert is Australia or North America based on the color of the dirt (which is nice because Australia is really far away from everywhere else and it’s depressing to only get like 32 points because you were on the wrong damn side of the Pacific Ocean). You’ll start noticing the subtle differences between pine forests on mountains in Canada and Norway, even if you can’t necessarily articulate why you can tell them apart. There are subtle clues you learn to look for, like architectural styles, which side of the road cars are driving on, if the cars look American or European or otherwise (the shape of the blurred-out license plates can help there), and what language road and building signs are in. The compass rose can help sometimes as well, especially when there’s an ocean view. When you first start out, you’ll be lucky to even guess the right continent half the time, but eventually you’ll start getting final score maps where all of your guesses were actually pretty darn close in the grand scheme of things.

Screencap from GeoGuessr of a world map with five pairs of pins corresponding to each round played. All the pairs are pretty close together.
Not bad!

You can share your scores on social media, but at the moment there’s no way to save scores or track your progress within the game. I’d love it if this feature became available, because I have a wee bit of a competitive streak, even if it’s just with myself. Other than that, though, I’m totally in love with the game. I hope you love it too!

By [E] Hillary

Hillary is a giant nerd and former Mathlete. She once read large swaths of "Why Evolution is True" and a geology book aloud to her infant daughter, in the hopes of a) instilling a love of science in her from a very young age and b) boring her to sleep. After escaping the wilds of Waco, Texas and spending the next decade in NYC, she currently lives in upstate New York, where she misses being able to get decent pizza and Chinese takeout delivered to her house. She lost on Jeopardy.

5 replies on “Traveling the World with GeoGuessr”

OMG I am so good at this! Just pinned down some scenery within some 100 km in the middle of the Russian wilderness, then totally nailed Kiev. (OK, it did say Ukraina, and there was a lot of gold and big buildings, and having been to Ukraine I know that there aren’t a lot of massive buildings outside the big cities, but still!) I love this. :D

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